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Monday musings on Australian literature: The other David Campbell and the sin of misattribution

May 7, 2012
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Much to my chagrin, the “other” poet named David Campbell drew to my attention recently to the fact that I had twice, in my blog, (mis)attributed a poem he’d written to the wrong David Campbell. The poem is “The Last Red Gum” and I first wrote about it in my post on The magnificent River Red Gums and then again, because it seemed relevant, in my post on Richard Allen and Kimbal Baker’s book Australia’s remarkable trees.

The David Campbell to whom I thought I was referring is the one who lived much of his life in my neck of the woods, that is, in the Australian Capital Territory and neighbouring areas of New South Wales. He did write a lot about nature and the landscape. In fact, his Wikipedia article (to which I’ve linked his name at the beginning of this paragraph) includes quotes from two poems about trees – “In summer’s tree” and “Snow gums”. It’s not surprising really that, at first glance, I thought I knew who I was quoting. This David Campbell wrote many volumes of poetry, edited anthologies and won some of our top poetry awards. He died in 1979.

However, the “other” David Campbell is very much alive – and just as well, because he was able to ensure I righted my wrong. He lives in Victoria and is a member of the Federation of Australian Writers. He too has won several poetry awards and has published volumes of poetry. While he also writes in free verse, his first love he says is bush poetry. As a lover of Banjo Paterson, I can relate to that. This Campbell is keen, he writes on his website, “to promote traditional poetry, particularly in terms of the assistance that a mastery of rhythm and rhyme gives to any form of writing”. He argues that this form of poetry “is accessible to all”. Like the first David Campbell, he has also written short stories (and appeared in Black Inc’s Best Australian stories, 2005).

In 2011, Campbell won the Bronze Swagman award for his poem about dementia, called Wasteland. You can read it on the ABC’s Western Queensland website. It’s a simple, accessible and moving poem.

And so, I apologise to this later David Campbell and hope he doesn’t mind if I quote another verse from “The Last Red Gum”, because I do like this poem and its environmental message:

Dead gums in Lake Mulwala

Dead gums in Lake Mulwala, on a late autumn afternoon

At Mulwala and Chowilla there are remnants of our kind
in a place where verdant floodplains used to be.
Now a ghostly red gum graveyard is the only thing you’ll find
and a desert is the only sight you’ll see
(from “The Last Red Gum”)

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned “another” Australian David Campbell, the singer and son of rocker Jimmy Barnes! It clearly pays to be careful in your research – something I with my librarian-archivist background should have been well aware of!

Have you ever been guilty of misattribution - and how did you handle it?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2012 1:03 am

    So many David Campbells! I’m sure you’re not the first nor the last to get them confused. I think you have handled correcting the confusion marvelously. :)

    • May 8, 2012 6:39 pm

      Thank you Stefanie … and if you go to Wikipedia you find more David Campbells (excluding the David Campbell poet here who is still alive).

  2. May 9, 2012 11:05 pm

    Like Stefanie, I think you’ve corrected yourself and paid homage and respect where due beautiful in this piece. I’m sure this confusion has happened many times, though it would indeed be strange to fin yourself eulogised somewhere when you’re quite on this astral plane and able to read it! :P Alas, such a confusion isn’t as easy to pick up as, say, a misplaced apostrophe. ;)

    • May 9, 2012 11:22 pm

      Too true, Hannah … fortunately I didn’t eulogise him (though in my heart I thought he was not longer here!). It is harder to pick up and some sources only give minimal information but that’s no excuse really.

  3. Meg permalink
    May 11, 2012 8:16 am

    I know another two David Campbell, you might want to add to your list. Don’t worry, only joking, both are far from being engaged in literature. Maybe one in porn movies – lol.

    Meg

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